Preface to the 2nd Edition

Preface to the 2nd Edition

Preface Preface to the 2nd Edition Having worked in the field of human resource management (HRM) for over 30 years all I have ever hoped to do is off...

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Preface

Preface to the 2nd Edition Having worked in the field of human resource management (HRM) for over 30 years all I have ever hoped to do is offer what I believe to be the best advice available. I encourage you to enter this book with a healthily, sceptical attitude though. Nothing can be taken for granted or at face value in HRM, there are no guarantees and no Magic Pills that actually work. So the first, golden rules of HR Strategy are work it out for yourself, use your common sense, make sure it fits your own particular set of circumstances and don’t expect an easy ride. I wrote the 1st Edition of ‘HR Strategy: Business Focused, Individually Centred’ back in 2002 (published in 2003) and took a very critical look at what was going on in HR departments; particularly in the US and the UK. I asked whether organizations had anything that could be accurately referred to as an ‘HR strategy’ and concluded they were all wide of the mark. I still hold to that worldview today but I think events in the intervening years have clearly demonstrated that organizations get the HR functions they deserve. The typical HR department is increasingly bogged down in transactional work and a legalistic bureaucracy that leaves little time for anything else other than reacting to immediate, day-to-day issues. Yet many of these issues would never arise if employee expectations, the demands placed on them, their development and the complete psychological contract were managed more strategically. The advent of ‘e-HR’ has done nothing to change the foundations on which HR operates and the savings claimed from the use of greater technology in personnel administration have yet to be substantiated. One particular development that has made me think long and hard of course is that I am now writing in the middle (or even still the beginning?) of what will probably turn out to be the biggest global depression since the 1930s. So do events on this scale make me want to alter the thesis at all? The simple answer is no, even though I never expected to see so many companies imposing pay freezes and even my premier exemplar, Toyota, laying workers off, working short time and reducing salaries accordingly. These developments may well shake an organization to its roots but they do nothing to undermine the key principles that will always underpin HR strategy – it has to be dynamic enough to move with the business strategy and yet be anchored in some solid,

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unchanging principles that will stand the test of time. That is why I did not feel the need to change one word of the ‘CEO’s welcome letter’ suggested in the 1st Edition (see again here in Chapter 4). It was designed to have perpetual relevance simply because no one can ever guarantee a job for life: it always anticipated that the worst could actually happen. Now it has. Meanwhile, the most noticeable development in HR since the 1st Edition has been the increasing amount of rhetoric around the term ‘human capital management’ (HCM), but without any clarity of thought as to whether it marks a genuine departure from conventional HRM or not. I have tried my best here to provide such clarity but while sterile, academic debates will probably continue about the role of HRM and HCM, ad nauseam, they have been overtaken by the seismic, real world events we are now witnessing with quantitative easing and the re-capitalisation of the banks at huge long-term cost to economies and their future taxpayers. This has led to some forecasters predicting the death of capitalism as we know it but I think such reports are much exaggerated. Moreover, any strategist should beware of letting their fundamentals be swayed in the face of such upheaval; recessions come and go, but the one thing that does not seem to change over time is human nature and that is what HR-business strategy is aiming to harness, the best value from each of us for the greatest good of all concerned. One big and embarrassing lesson that HR professionals have to learn from failed banks, and their CEO’s who employed ‘people’ directors, heads of learning, leadership development, compensation and benefits, organisational development and diversity is that their methods obviously did not work. They are guilty as charged on two strategic, counts – failure to maximise value and failure to minimise risk. This is not just a banking phenomenon though and HR strategy failure can become a matter of life or death. The National Audit Office (NAO) in the UK reported that more than 2000 people died as a result of NHS hospital errors or accidents in 2004–2005 (The Times, 3 November 2005). In 2007 another NAO study (2005 figures reported in The Times on 19 December 2007) revealed that premature babies in some areas were more than twice as likely to die as in others. Obviously many factors would contribute to these terrible statistics but the NAO criticized a failure ‘to share lessons across the NHS’, something an HR-business strategy would be designed to address. It would also ensure that processes and communications were working effectively that might have prevented another type of error (reported in The Times on 8 November 2007) identified by a Coroner, at an inquest into the death of a 19-year-old soldier in a roadside explosion in Iraq in 2004, who said the British Army’s supply chain ‘appeared chaotic and lacking in clarity’ and the soldier would have survived if the bomb-jamming equipment, which had been in stock for two weeks, had been fitted. These are stories about dysfunctional organizations. No individual is to blame because the whole system is failing. The picture is no rosier in manufacturing with the US automotive giants, Ford and General Motors, negotiating Government bailouts to make up for their

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management failings. We must also take note that two of these companies defined modern American management methods in the twentieth Century and employed many senior managers with MBAs from the most prestigious business schools, who are themselves having to take a long hard look at what they have been taught. Fortunately the ‘creative destruction’ built into capitalism means we will continue to learn from these failures and eventually a much stronger version of the model will surface. So there can be no better time to reconsider what the word ‘management’ should mean in the twenty-first Century. My own answer to that question is business strategy has to have a fully integrated HR strategy built into it – hence my new use this time around of the compound term HR-business strategy, a much better descriptor of the indivisible and inseparable nature of what is required. Other developments that have been increasingly conflated with HR strategy are corporate social responsibility (CSR), business ethics, environmentalism and diversity. Whatever the laudable aims of such endeavours they have served to cloud the waters of organizational strategy and make the role of a CEO much more problematic because many more stakeholders now have to be considered. These issues have a natural appeal to the psyche of many HR practitioners, who have a preoccupation with fairness and societal concerns in their DNA. Some will promote these as part of what they see as the campaigning role of HR but rarely do they develop a coherent way of reconciling these valid societal issues with the harsh world of a globalized economy. I tried to offer some answers to this conundrum in the 1st Edition and I have re-doubled my efforts here (and in 2007 in ‘The Value Motive’). No longer can any CEO just offer profit, or any purely financial ratios, as testament to their effectiveness or organizational success. If these societal issues are to play any strategic part at all they will have to be properly factored into the total equation. In the 1st Edition I made the point that the ultimate owner of the HR strategy has to be the CEO; only they can make HR-business strategy work so why not put them centre stage? I am even more convinced now that this is the only way forward and so have borrowed Machiavelli’s device (in The Prince) of writing the 2nd Edition from the standpoint of an adviser to the CEO. It is unlikely that many CEOs will purchase this book themselves, however, so I am hoping the primary audience of HR professionals and those who want to be HR strategists will hand it to them after digesting the lessons herein. Even though the book ‘talks to’ the CEO it is designed as an HR director’s practical guide, an aide memoire or even a script for them to open up a more meaningful and focused dialogue with the board and the rest of the executive about what an HR-business strategy really means and, more importantly, what it could be worth in hard currency. One trend that has not abated since the 1st Edition is the plethora of new management gimmicks, fads and supposed breakthroughs that continues to plague those who seek to become professional managers. An appetite for newness, as opposed to genuine innovation, is not only symptomatic of an

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unscrupulous consultancy market but also organizational ‘leaders’ who have actually run out of ideas themselves. I persevere with my long-running campaign against such Magic Pills in the hope that professional, evidence-based management will eventually become the predominant methodology. Interest in evidence-based management has grown significantly since 2002 and the American Academy of Management is now taking the subject seriously enough for it to counter such faddism (see Denise Rousseau’s comment in Chapter 6). I hope that this book will further the cause of evidence-based, general management and be a sharp spur to evidence-based, strategic HR management. As far as any additional content in this edition is concerned there are new sections on human systems (only covered very briefly in the earlier edition) and more on where and how human capital management fits into a holistic HRbusiness strategy. I have also added a section on learning strategy, for two reasons. One, organizational learning is probably the most fertile area for creating huge value from people and therefore demands much more attention at board and executive level than it currently attracts. Two, learning strategy has to be a subset of HR-business strategy; a viewpoint that is still not fully accepted by many who call themselves learning or organizational development specialists. Finally, it is worth emphasizing that while the 1st Edition attempted to lay down a very solid, theoretical platform this edition provides much more practical, step-by-step guidance: or at least as much as any ‘practical’ guide to strategy can. In that sense the two editions could be more accurately described as Parts 1 and 2. I hope readers of both will see them as complementary even though there are significant areas of overlap. The 1st Edition led directly to me teaching a regular, elective, MBA programme on HR strategy for mature students (mainly non-HR). A significant number of them have since become convinced that the disciplines I teach, under the HR-business strategy banner, should be a mandatory part of the core MBA programme. I couldn’t agree more and will now be teaching it as a core management programme from 2010 onwards. I hope you enjoy this 2nd Edition, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word. Whether it makes you a more enlightened manager or not, it has been written in the hope that it should help you to create more value for yourself, your organization, your people and, most important of all, for your fellow human beings. Paul Kearns 31 March 2009